LETTER TO N: THIS SUMMER
By Edward Reilly

The stink of burning grass after rainfall, galahs wheeling
Through treetops along the grey river, skies overcast:
Perhaps it will rain enough to put an end to the bushfires
Even though there is talk of another hit spell next week.
The tomatoes are doing well, plenty of the small romanos,
But the grosse lisse are fruitless, just as are our neighbour’s:
Maybe a bad batch, even the local newspapers commented.
Since then, advertisements have appeared for organic seedlings.
I suppose they imply the plants have been raised from seed,
Watered with virgins’ tears at midnight on a full Moon,
Manured by buried cows’ horns, the usual vatic nonsense,
But if the yield halfway decent fruit, then why snipe?
As you may have seen on the BBC, our coast is on fire,
From the Cape to Lorne people have fled to the beaches,
Wading into the strangely slick waters to escape the flames
Sweeping down from the hills’ crowns roaring like a banshee,
Flinging embers out and over their heads, waves turning red
And even the fish fleeing into deeper waters. I remember
What it was like in 1983 when we took flight from Lorne,
Trying to get past Anglesea before they closed the exits.
We made it. Children sobbing and dog whining in the back,
Radio crackling with drift and static so badly I turned it off,
Besides, those blokes in the Big Smoke weren’t witnesses
To what we had seen, and felt: all hysteria and pointless noise,
Then the smooth platitudes from those who weren’t here.
At least you gave us a hot meal and a place to stay the night,
And didn’t rattle on about unprovable theories of climate change,
Like the endless parade of faces on the flickering screen.
Strange how the images were bent and warped by smoke.
You said something about the new digital service to come
When this sort of thing wouldn’t happen, new technology
Promises us a better, some say an even more fulfilling life,
But the signal still does disintegrate into baffling squares
So that we see ghosts shifting across a shimmering screen
On a still summer night when Neptune sports with our Science
Or the Moon shines too brightly in late summer nights.
They suspect arson, or it could have been a faulty powerline.
In either case the boys will need to wait until it’s quite safe
To drive into the ranges and look around the fire’s seat.
Surely no one would have been crazy enough to have been up there!
When the cool change and rain came in, before sunrise,
A chorus of birds went into full-throated, lusty singing,
Rousing me out of bed to make myself a coffee and toast
Whilst the rest were still sound asleep. What a noise!
Honeyeaters trilled, mynas scrurried around garden beds,
Magpies carolled their territorial anthems, ravens cawed.
A neighbour’s dog remonstrated against the incoming wind,
And a blanket, still draped over the clothes line, flapped.
Thanks for the phone call, as I said we’re in no danger,
And we’ll stay on for the coming month, maybe longer.

Edward Reilly, b. 1944, Adelaide (South Australia), holds a PhD in Poetics (Victoria Uni. 2000) & is the founding editor of a small literary journal Azuria. His criticism & poetry have been published in journals, print & online, in Australia & overseas.

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